National Coming Out Week focuses on society

by Emma Carew


On Oct. 11, 1987, 500,000 people marched in Washington, D.C. to advocate gay and lesbian rights.

Eighteen years later, University students remember this day with a weeklong celebration: National Coming Out Week.

“National Coming Out Week is about moving towards a more open society,” urban studies senior and former Minnesota Daily employee Eric James said.

It’s a time when everyone can talk openly about their sexuality and people can form their identities without being afraid, he said.

The Queer Student Cultural Center is sponsoring events all week, which began with a rally on the Coffman Union Plaza on Monday, National Coming Out Week committee chairman Luciano Patino said.

The QSCC tries to energize people as much as possible, and incorporate activism, education and social interaction into all of its events, he said.

Students who walked through the lavender door, named “Doorothy,” on the plaza got to choose a T-shirt with a label ranging from Gay to Queer to Me, he said.

QSCC co-chairperson Jen Mohnkern said the entire basis for “Doorothy” comes from the saying “closets are for clothes, not for people.”

“Without coming out, we have no culture,” Mohnkern said.

The QSCC and GLBT Programs Office handed out literature, stickers, condoms and lubrication during the rally, math senior Mike Grewe said.

“It’s a time for the queer community to get together and celebrate who we are and what we stand for as a community,” Grewe said.

Patino said the goal of the QSCC’s events is to increase awareness and educate the public about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and ally issues.

National Coming Out Day isn’t just about coming out with sexuality, Mohnkern said; it’s also a time for allies to come out.

“It’s about everyone being able to come out and be honest,” Mohnkern said.

GLBTQA services on campus include the GLBT Programs Office, the GLBT minor, the QSCC and its affiliate groups, Mohnkern said.

The GLBT programs office was founded in 1993, following a report from the University Select Committee on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns, GLBT programs office founder Beth Zemsky said.

“When I arrived, it was just an idea,” Zemsky said.

There was no staff, no mission, she said, just the idea that the climate on campus wasn’t positive and needed to be fixed.

In the past 12 years, the GLBT programs office has worked to start the GLBT studies program and acquire the Tretter Collection, she said.

The Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies, which is housed in the Elmer L. Andersen Library, started out with about 15,000 pieces, but has since grown to more than 30,000 items, Zemsky said.

“Sexuality is becoming more fluid,” James said. “We’re moving towards a society where people can be whatever they want.

“People are done being shocked,” he said.

People are more comfortable with the prevalence of the GLBTQA community and now there needs to be discussion about how to form relationships with society, James said.

Grewe said most University students are accepting and tolerant and that he found less hostility when he came out than he had expected.

“I found enormous support for who I was,” he said.

Even people who were opposed to homosexuality “came to terms with who I was,” Grewe said.

The campus still has a long way to go and needs to become much more understanding, Mohnkern said.

“You also find a lot of people who are very nice to your face but very weirded out,” Mohnkern said. “You also find some people who don’t even do that.”

Despite a liberal community and fairly accepting campus, there are still issues in the University community, Patino said.

There are still students who have nasty things written on their doors in the dorms, he said, and incidents of students feeling uncomfortable.

Transgender issues are also at the forefront, Patino said. For example, there isn’t a place where students can find a list of single stall bathrooms on campus.

Mohnkern also said same-sex marriage, along with parenting rights, will continue to be an issue for the GLBTQA community.

National Coming Out Week is a time to further these causes, Grewe said.

“It’s important to celebrate who we are and the successes we’ve had in the public arena,” he said.